How Weird Al Went From Silly to Stardom Overnight

Weird Al Yankovic is a man of many genres. He is a trailblazer in the world of strange theme songs and humor in the musical world. He’s known for keeping it weird and doing it in his own way. Anyone who has caught his special on Behind the Music can tell you that debauchery is his game.

Weird Al / Weird Al Yankovic and Chamillionaire / Weird Al / Weird Al and his band.
Source: Getty Images

Even Weird Al himself did not understand how his career of creating over-the-top, goofy songs could even land him a special like that. His life may not have the same controversy as other entertainers, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t offer his fans something to gossip about! These are the many pieces that make Weird Al a legend today!

Entertainment Wasn’t His Family Business

Weird Al Yankovic seems to be the only person in his family who works in the music industry, but his family name definitely tells us a different story. Unfortunately, Weird Al is not related to Frankie Yankovic, a phenomenon in the world of polka music. He’d even go as far as calling himself the polka king!

Weird Al Yankovic plays an accordion / Frankie Yankovic is playing the accordion
Photo by Paul Natkin, Getty Images / GAB Archive, Redferns, Getty Images

Weird Al and Frankie aren’t related, despite their shared family name. It’s totally reasonable for anyone to infer that the two might share a bloodline, and though they don’t, there is something great to report; they are friends in real life! They even performed together on one of Frankie’s albums.

The American Polka King

Weird Al played accordion alongside his buddy Frankie on his album, “Songs of The Polka King, vol. 1,” and his talent was certainly noted. It doesn’t matter how many times we’re told that Weird Al is not related to “America’s Polka King,” tabloids will still try and pin them as family members.

Weird Al playing alongside Frankie in an old music video.
Source: Youtube

In Weird Al’s 2001 conversation with TheForce.Net, he clarified for his speculating fans. “Sometimes after explaining to a reporter for the third time that Frankie wasn’t my dad, I would read the article, and it would say, ‘There’s obviously a rift in the Yankovic family — Al won’t even admit that Frankie’s his father!'”

He’s a Legitimate Genius

The world knows him for his parodies, but we know him as far more than just an entertainer with a penchant for turning everything into a joke. He’s got another weapon outside of his silly sense of humor, and you probably wouldn’t see it coming from the type of work he does…

Baby Al Yankovic is playing with an accordion on his mother’s lap.
Source: Pinterest

Weird Al has the brains to be successful in almost any field, as proven by his academic achievements in his earliest years. He was a successful student as a child…

He Skipped Second Grade

He was so smart that he started skipping grades at school from a young age. He started kindergarten a year early, skipped second grade, and even graduated from his high school in Lynwood, California, when he was only 16 years old! How crazy is that? Many people can only dream of that level of intelligence…

Weird Al is giving his high school graduation speech as valedictorian.
Source: Reddit

He went on to study at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, known to locals as Cal Poly-SLO, and received his bachelor’s degree in architecture. He’s already built a fantastic and hilarious musical career – why not add some bridges and buildings to his repertoire?

Al’s Iconic Michael Jackson Tributes

Michael Jackson’s hit song “Beat It” swept the world in 1982, and fans loved his musical prowess. Just two years later, Jackson allowed Weird Al to parody his top hit and create his own version. He dropped a single letter and changing the title entirely – to “Eat It.”

Weird Al is parodying Michael Jackson's‘ Beat It’ album cover.
Source: Imgur

Weird Al pretty much owes his career to the late Michael Jackson because he allowed the parodist to turn some of his most iconic titles into spoofs. The marvelous Michael Jackson also allowed Yankovic to transform the song “Bad” into “Fat,” though their saga goes much further than that.

Black or White

Jackson wouldn’t allow Yankovic to parody the song “Black or White” into “Snack All Night” for a few reasons that are more than understandable. Primarily, he refused to let him play on that title because he did not want the message of his tune to get lost in the mix.

Weird Al Yankovic poses with various food items referenced in his song 'Eat It.’
Photo by Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images

“He thought [it] was more of a message song, and he didn’t feel as comfortable with a parody of that one,” Yankovic told Rolling Stone back in 2009. The parody artist also credits Jackson as the force that pushed him forward; he was stuck in a rut and needed to move away from Michael Jackson’s songs.

While at Neverland Ranch

In the Rolling Stone piece about Weird Al honoring Michael Jackson’s memory through his work, another interesting anecdote was revealed. It seems that the Yankovic and Jackson’s relationship was more than just a quick, professional exchange – the two had shared interests and passions.

Michael Jackson performs in concert circa 1986.
Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage/Getty Images

Jackson loved Yankovic so much that he showed off his work to his friends when they visited. Jackson told him in the early 1990s that he liked to play Yankovic’s movie UHF, about a man who creates a television show on social satire and hyperactive humor, for his friends at Neverland Ranch!

Smells Like Nirvana

Had Michael Jackson not rejected Weird Al’s proposal for a new, sillier version of “Black or White,” he might not have explored satirizing other artists. Luckily, he took the rejection as guidance to make fun of other musical groups who were working their way to the top in the music scene.

Kurt Cobain of Nirvana performs on stage.
Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Weird Al decided to parody the group Nirvana, eventually releasing “Smells Like Nirvana” in place of the original title, “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” Choosing this new band to poke fun at helped bring his career as the ultimate jokester back to life.

Taking Digs at Nirvana

Before Nirvana’s lead singer decided to end everything they had worked to build, Weird Al managed to jab the group with his unique sense of humor. He played into their deep and mumbling tones, making fun of that part of their music altogether. He was relentless…

'Weird Al' Yankovic performs live on stage dressed as Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.
Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images

Following the tune of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Yankovic’s lyrics were totally on the nose: “What is this song really about? I can’t seem to figure any lyrics out… how do the words to it go? I wish you’d tell me… I don’t know!” The digs don’t stop there, but he’s clearly got a penchant for creating catchy tunes that follow the band’s grungy theme!

When I Grow Up, a Children’s Story by Weird Al

Weird Al Yankovic took his talents to children’s storytelling. In his author credits for his children’s book When I Grow Up, he dropped the word “weird” from his title to make sure that all children see themselves as unique. He encouraged creativity through every step of the story.

Weird Al Yankovic promotes his new book
Photo by Michael N. Todaro/FilmMagic/Getty Images

He is credited as the author, with Wes Hargis illustrating the story. It follows an eight-year-old boy named Billy who shows his classmates the possibilities of non-traditional jobs and the importance of dreaming. This is clear through lines like, “‘Cause maybe I’ll be a gorilla masseuse/ Or an artist who sculpts out of chocolate mousse/ Or a rodeo clown or a movie director/ Or maybe professional pickle inspector…”

How Old Is Weird Al?

Alfred Matthew Yankovic was born on October 23rd, 1959, making him 61 years old as of 2021. He was born in Lynwood, California, a suburb of Los Angeles. If you want to get really specific, his website shared the time of his birth as 1:56 p.m., if you’re interested in getting down to the minute!

Weird Al Yankovic attends the
Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images

It’s great to learn that his goofiness never disappears. Even as Al has grown through his adult years, fatherhood, and beyond, he still manages to stay true to form. Who says that growing older means that you lose your sense of humor? Certainly not Weird Al and his crew!

Where Did the Name “Weird Al” Come From?

He recalled being called “Weird Al” as far back as his freshman year in the dorms at his university, Cal Poly-SLO, in sunny San Luis Obispo. His nickname only became official when he started working as a campus DJ at their radio station, KCPR.

Weird Al as a radio DJ in college.
Source: Pinterest

The name “Weird Al” just stuck, and he felt it was incredibly on-brand with the work that he was creating. He knew that the music he made was far from “normal,” but really, what is normal? He chose to embrace his silly side in every part of his life, right down to his stage name.

His Parents Died… Together!

When his parents were elderly, they were met with an unfortunate fate. His mother and father, Nick and Mary Yankovic, were 86 and 81 years old when they were found dead in their own home. They accidentally perished after starting a fire in their fireplace with the chimney closed.

Nick Yankovic, Mary Yankovic, Suzanne Yankovic,
Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

As a result of this unfortunate oversight, the couple died after exposure to carbon monoxide poisoning. They fell victim to a horrible accident, and their son Al was broken up about what had happened. True performers know that the show must go on, which is exactly how Al honored his late parents.

The Show Must Go On

Al’s parents appeared in some of his films, as well as his “Behind the Music” special on VH-1. They appeared in his mockumentary, The Complete Al, and if you ask us, they really stole the show. The news of their passing was shocking, and Al was told at a terrible time…

A photo of teen Weird Al posing with his parents.
Source: Facebook

Al was told that his parents passed away by his wife on the phone while he was on tour. He was devastated, shocked, and all-around shaken up over the unexpected loss, and understandably so. To honor their memory, Al played his show that evening. He knew they were watching him from somewhere, making sure he would always be taken care of.

His Old Record Case

Back in 2014, a record case that once belonged to Weird Al went on sale on eBay. Someone who worked with Al at one point in his career, who also lived near Al’s parents, acquired the record box and shared a phenomenal story that went along with the item.

The record case sold on eBay.
Source: eBay

Robert Young, the man selling the item on eBay, shared the tale of how he had received the item. The seller waited ten years before putting it up for sale but did promise Weird Al that he wouldn’t put the item on eBay… Oops!

How He Acquired the Box

Young shared a touching story about how he acquired the record case in the item description on eBay. “I was the producer of The Dr. Demento Show from 1981 to 1991, and Weird Al Yankovic was working in our company’s mailroom at the time. We watched him go from zero to hero with ‘Another Rides the Bus,’ ‘Eat It,’ etc., and I developed a friendship with him during that time.”

Wierd Al Yankovic makes a silly face while posing for a photoshoot.
Photo By Brian Brainerd/The Denver Post/Getty Images

“Eventually, I moved to a small town in Northern San Diego County… Fallbrook. Coincidentally, this was also where a few of ‘Weird Al’s relatives live, including his parents. I knew the house where they lived, but I didn’t bother them as I didn’t know them all that well, so I minded my own business.”

Coming Across Treasures

“In April of 2004, tragedy struck and Weird Al’s parents were killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in their home. I felt that Al would have to come over and go through his parent’s possessions, and I wanted to pay my respects to him for his loss personally, so I waited a few weeks and then went over there one day on a Saturday afternoon.”

Al Yankovic’s childhood home.
Source: Facebook

“Well, I happened to hit the nail on the head and got lucky because he was there, alone, cleaning out the garage! We talked, hugged, laughed, cried… It was a sad moment as he also knew that I had lost my wife of many years a few years earlier. I saw in the pile of things he was sorting through this record box, and I asked for it, and he gave it to me.”

“Just Don’t Sell It on eBay….”

Robert Young, the salesman of this memorable record box, also recalled the steps he took to make sure that he was doing right by Weird Al before putting the item up for sale. Despite Al’s request, “as long as you don’t sell it on eBay,” Young was downsizing his home and needed to get rid of things. The record case was one of those items.

Weird Al poses with John Schwartz backstage.
Weird Al, John Schwartz. Source: Twitter

Fortunately for Young, he was still in touch with Weird Al’s longtime drummer, John Schwartz. Young had kept in touch with Schwartz since he and Yankovic took odd jobs around the radio station where their mentor, Dr. Demento, worked. Fortunately, Schwartz got the go-ahead from Al himself, and the item was officially up for sale.

Many Artists Weren’t Cool With His Parodies

It is completely understandable to learn that not every entertainer was comfortable with their hard work being joked about in his songs. Artists spend their entire lifetime working on pieces to be proud of, so naturally, they don’t want another artist to make a mockery of it.

Weird Al Yankovic, as Michael Jackson, plays keyboards as he performs onstage.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

While comedian Jon Stewart believed that Weird Al helped bring certain artists to light (he said he felt Nirvana “had arrived” after Al parodied them), there were other artists who were simply against the possibility of a Weird Al Parody. While some of the greats loved his parodies, others couldn’t stand it!

The Strict Vegetarian

Paul McCartney was not going to let Yankovic put a damper on his meaningful ditty, “Live and Let Die.” The parodist wanted to make his version of the song, “Chicken Pot Pie,” and maybe if McCartney weren’t a strict vegetarian, he would have let him!

Paul McCartney performs during Desert Trip at the Empire Polo Field.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

At least McCartney voiced his opinions in time! When Yankovic took Daniel Powter’s hit single, “Bad Day” and turned it into “Bad Date,” the original singer was fine with it until the last possible moment. When he changed his mind, Yankovic told The Toronto Sun that, “I had to inform him that the train had left the station.”

Prince Didn’t Want to Be Associated

There was one artist who refused to be associated with any of Weird Al’s parodies. Prince denied every pitch that Yankovic came to him with – and there were many. He was disappointed with Prince’s lack of interest. “I had a parody of ‘Let’s Go Crazy’ that was about The Beverly Hillbillies,” Yankovic told People Magazine.

Prince performs live at the Fabulous Forum.
Photo by Michael Montfort/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

“And I wanted to do something funny with ‘When Doves Cry,’ and ‘Kiss.’ For ‘1999,’ I wanted to do an infomercial where you could get anything you wanted by dialing 1-800-something-1999.” It’s very apparent that these parodies were not what Prince was comfortable with, but we can’t really blame him.

He Doesn’t Technically Need Permission

Weird Al technically does not need permission from artists to parody their songs. Since he is clearly a stand-up guy, he asks for it anyway! U.S. copyright law’s “fair use” provision allows artists like Yankovic to satirize work from original artists without permission. Don’t be fooled, though – there is a twist.

Weird Al Yankovic performs at Falls Festival.
Photo by Cassandra Hannagan/WireImage/Getty Images

Royalties have to be paid to the original artist, which is only fair. It is important enough to Yankovic to stay on good terms with those he parodies, so he always goes out of his way to get permission before throwing himself into a new song and project.

The Other Problems He Could Face

Yankovic learned through his research that if he didn’t seek out approval from the original artist, a label might not release the related single. Yankovic and his team learned the hard way that even if he didn’t suffer directly, the label might if he didn’t seek out permission.

Weird Al Yankovic poses in a theater seat.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

He didn’t seek out permission from Queen before releasing a parody of “Another One Bites the Dust,” blessing the world with the song “Another One Rides the Bus.” TK Records agreed to a deal without getting the necessary permission, and it ended up being their last single release. They closed abruptly, citing “financial trouble.”

“Please Don’t Make Eye Contact With Prince!”

So, we already know that Prince didn’t approve of Weird Al’s song parodies and certainly didn’t want his own work to be at the receiving end. Every request was denied, but it seemed that Prince’s problems with Yankovic ran a bit deeper than that!

Prince arrives at The American Music Awards.
Photos by Brad Elterman/FilmMagic/Getty Images

As if it wasn’t clear enough, Prince supposedly didn’t even want Yankovic to look at him! Yankovic received a telegram the night before the American Music Awards from Prince’s lawyers, demanding that he avoid eye contact with the pop sensation. He learned that other artists seated near him received the same note, but that’s still strange!

Madonna’s Bright Idea

While many artists might have asked Yankovic to stay away from their songs, pop idol Madonna gave him a sensational idea. In a conversation between Madonna and a mysterious (or rather, unnamed) friend, she wondered when Weird Al would make a parody of her songs.

Weird Al, dressed as a surgeon in an operating room, from the Like a Surgeon music video.
Source: Youtube

Madonna wondered aloud when Weird Al would turn “Like a Virgin” into “Like a Surgeon,” and luckily, the pop star’s anonymous friend was close with Yankovic’s manager, Jay Levey. Levey then told Yankovic, and musical history was made! No one since Madonna has successfully pitched him their ideas.

Bringing Back Jeopardy!

Before Alex Trebek graced our screens as the host of Jeopardy! it started as just another daytime game show on NBC. It ran from 1964 until 1975 and was hosted by Art Fleming, with Don Pardo (who later made waves on SNL) as the announcer. A decade later, it would be given new life by Weird Al Yankovic.

Weird Al and Art Fleming during the ‘I Lost on Jeopardy’ music video
Weird Al, Art Fleming. Source: CBS

Yankovic released “I Lost on Jeopardy” on December 12th, 1983. The single released referred to the NBC version of the show, and the music video starred Fleming and Pardo, which was filmed two weeks earlier. Fortunately, this parody brought new life to the off-air show.

Merv Griffin Appreciated Weird Al

In the days between recording the song and filming the video, Merv Griffin was asked to pair his already successful Wheel of Fortune with another half-hour game show, and he had recently re-discovered Jeopardy. Griffin asked Yankovic to come to perform the song, and he accepted.

Merv Griffin watches the Weird Al performance.
Source: Reddit

Weird Al performed his hit song for Griffin and his audience and was an instant hit. Yankovic performed it on June 29th, 1984 and learned shortly afterward that his song was successful enough to bring Jeopardy! back to life! How cool is that? That’s such an honor!

A Group Had Fans Throw Things at Weird Al

Back in 1982, Weird Al and his brand-new musical group played their first-ever performance. It didn’t go as well as they had hoped, unfortunately. They opened for a new wave band called Missing Persons at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, and let’s just say that the audience was less than pleased.

Weird Al performs on stage with his band.
Source: Pinterest

Yankovic and his band played their set, as a very rowdy audience threw random assorted items at them on stage. What the heck? They played for 45 minutes as these unhappy spectators threw whatever they could at him and his group. Later, his bandmates scrambled for the loose change on the stage.

They Tracked Him Down in the Parking Lot

“I was walking to my car in the parking lot, and this 12-year-old boy comes up to me and says, ‘Are you, Weird Al?’ I said yes, and he said, ‘YOU SUCK!’ That was the capper of the evening.” They didn’t see the experience as hilarious, at least not at the moment.

Weird Al and his band members pose for a group shot.
Source: Pinterest

After this monstrous experience, the group agreed to never open for another band again. They later went back on this, but only after five years of waiting for the awkwardness to pass. They only headlined small shows until they agreed to open for The Monkees in 1987.

Al’s Accordion

Verified in the liner notes of his 1994 box set “Permanent Record: Al in the Box” is a myth about how Weird Al first found himself playing the accordion. Just a day before Al’s seventh birthday, a door-to-door salesman from a local music school showed up at their home.

Photo by Paul Warner/WireImage/Getty Images

The salesman was looking for business for the music school, and students were given two very different options – pick guitar lessons or accordion lessons. They’re so different! Frankie Yankovic, who would later become a dear friend to Weird Al, was already deemed “America’s Polka King” and shared their last name, so they selected that for him.

The Squeezebox

Al’s parents chose the squeezebox for their son, and he would learn slowly but surely. He wanted to learn his favorite genre on the instrument, which usually didn’t come with sheet music to match, but he was happy to learn. He played songs from Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” album over and over again.

A young Al Yankovic shows off his accordion.
Source: Reddit

Al so desperately wanted to play along with Elton John’s hits that he would not put the squeezebox down! That must have been a major regret for his parents, but maybe not – he did go on to use his accordion to do some great things in the musical world!

Recorded in the Bathroom

Yankovic was still in college when he started parodying some of the music world’s greatest hits. In 1979, he recorded a parody of The Knack’s “My Sharona” and titled it “My Bologna.” This song was recorded in the acoustic-tiled bathroom across from his college radio station!

Yankovic is performing with his accordion in college.
Source: The New York Times

Luckily, Yankovic was able to find a microphone that was long enough to reach from the bathroom to KCPR-FM’s tape deck. His song got an overwhelmingly positive response on Dr. Demento’s show, and suddenly, his hobby of making joke versions of songs became a reality.

Christmas at Ground Zero

In 1986, Weird Al released a single off his album, Polka Party! that received a tough response. The song “Christmas at Ground Zero” was a message sent from Weird Al to the Scotti Bros. record label, who would not get off his back about releasing a Christmas song. Well, they didn’t know what they were in for…

Weird Al Yankovic presides as Grand Marshall of the Lynwood Christmas parade.
Photo by Bob Berg/Getty Images

He recorded the song and set it in a world where a nuclear war was about to break out. Whether it was his intention or not, the song didn’t get much commercial airtime. Initially, ground zero was a general term used, whereas it soon would turn into a name associated with the September 11th attacks. No wonder why this song didn’t go very far.

Coolio Was the Opposite of Cool After “Amish Paradise”

Back when Weird Al recorded “Amish Paradise” parodied after “Gangsta’s Paradise,” he was always checking with artists to make sure it was OK to spoof them. He didn’t want to rely on what management said because that wasn’t always the most accurate point of view.

Weird Al Yankovic, in costume as an Amish rapper, as he performs onstage.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

Coolio was reportedly not OK with it and made it clear in a later interview. He brought up Michael Jackson’s influence, and while it didn’t strike him at the time, he would later realize that if MJ was cool with it, why couldn’t he be? It would take him some time to get there, though.

Coolio Speaks Out

Coolio vocalized his thoughts, stating, “I ain’t with that. No. I didn’t give it any sanction. I think that my song was too serious. It ain’t like it was ‘Beat It.’ ‘Beat It’ was a party song. But I think ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ represented something more than that. And I really, honestly and truly, don’t appreciate him desecrating the song like that.”

Coolio performs during KMEL Summer Jam at Shoreline Amphitheatre.
Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

Weird Al, being the stand-up guy that he is, apologized, claiming that Coolio’s managers had given him the OK to release the song. He was led to believe that Coolio approved of it and learned the hard way that he really was not interested in it.

Coolio Came Full Circle

In his song “Throwdown 2000,” just a year after “Amish Paradise,” Coolio clapped back at Yankovic and his crew. He added the line, “Fools be in the bars unadvanced with a switch/Uppercuts and fight kicks with Weird Al Yankovich,” but eventually, Coolio came full circle and got over it.

Weird Al and Coolio embrace one another.
Source: Reddit

Coolio thought it through: “I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ I was like, ‘Coolio, who the f**k do you think you are? He did Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson didn’t get mad,'” continuing that complaining about “Amish Paradise” was “one of the dumbest things I did in my career” and that the parody was “funny as sh–.”

His Highest Charting Song

Chamillionaire is a huge Weird Al fan, so when the parodist decided to goof on the song “Ridin’,” the original artist felt that he had truly made it to the best of the best. Chamillionaire claimed that the song became a “mega-record” after the parody came out, and he even credited Weird Al for his Grammy win in 2007.

Weird Al Yankovic and Chamillionaire pose during the third day of rehearsals for the American Music Awards.
Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Not only did Chamillionaire win the 2007 Grammy for Best Rap Performance By a Duo or Group, but Weird Al’s spoof of the song, “White & Nerdy,” became his highest performing song to date! The music video alone garnered more than 86 million views on YouTube!

Making History for Weird Al

His hit song, “White & Nerdy,” is the only one of his songs to make it to Billboard’s top 10 list of the famous Billboard 100. The song peaked at the number nine slot, but he didn’t mind – one of his songs was making history and getting more attention than it ever had before!

Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele checking out Weird Al from their car in a scene from the “White & Nerdy,” music video.
Source: Youtube

The music video for the song featured Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele long before they were at the center of their own Comedy Central show. They play two hip “gangsters” who see him as far too “basic” for them. The two men keep on running into Weird Al wherever they go, so it seems they can’t get away from the white nerd himself!

Thank You, Dr. Demento!

Weird Al has managed to become a more accomplished artist than many of those he has spoofed in the past. None of this would have been possible without the mentorship and attention his work received from Barry Hansen, known to many as Dr. Demento.

Barry Hansen, aka Dr. Demento and
Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Dr. Demento first received a submission on his desk from 16-year-old high school senior Alfred Yankovic back in 1976. The song was strange, but he couldn’t resist; “When he sang the line, ‘there’s something about a Comet that makes me want to vomit,'” Demento said, “that kind of perked up my ears.” Well, thank you, Dr. Demento, for giving him a chance – and giving us a legend!